By AMIT KUMAR BOSE (Faculty: Sociology Optional, Indian Society & International Relations)
Sociology, as an optional paper has been doing relatively well in helping number of candidates getting selected in this coveted examination, called Civil Services Examination conducted by UPSC. Here in this article we are try to provide a holistic understanding and prepare a sound strategy for Sociology Optional.
Since the last changes made in 2013, UPSC has accepted and adopted 25 subjects along with 23 languages as Optional Subjects for the coveted Civil Service Examination for the country. Out of these 48 subjects, not all of them provide results regularly. In fact, there are number of subjects with which one or two candidates topped this examination but when we look at the over-all results, we are not impressed by them. Let me be very honest here. If I am to choose between two subjects, of which one has provided only one topper and the other provides regular results in large numbers, I’ll choose the second one since with the second subject chances of qualifying would be easier, that’s why, a greater number of candidates secure selection with that second subject. There are only a handful of such subjects, Sociology is one of them.
In the recent past, Sociology as an Optional Subject has been regularly providing results, year upon year. Every year, if you look at the top 10, you’ll find at least two candidates, on an average, with Sociology as their optional. Simultaneously, on an average, the subject helps 100+ candidates to secure their selection every year.
Additionally, Sociology is also one of the few subjects with the smallest possible syllabus. A syllabus, which can easily be covered in 120 to 150 hours of classroom coaching. This is a big boon to a candidate, given the huge volume of General Studies (GS) syllabus, both in Prelims and in Mains. We need to keep in mind while choosing an optional subject that the subject has to be suitable enough (read small enough), which can be covered comprehensively, along with the vast syllabus of GS. Simultaneously, for most of us, these optional subjects are completely new. Hence, on one hand there is the onus of preparing a new subject on the candidates along with covering the syllabus of GS.
By the way, how am I calling the syllabus of Sociology Optional to be one of the smallest??? The Syllabus given by UPSC seems to be quite large with distinctive syllabus for the two separate papers (Paper 1 & Paper 2). Well. Paper 1 of the subjects deals with the principles of the theories, whereas Paper 2 deals with the application of the theories, discussed in Paper 1, here in India. If we closely scrutinise the syllabus, neither there is any requirement to approach them separately nor the two papers should be approached separately. A mistake, most of the candidates do while preparing. Here, I would like to elaborate the same.
Say for example, the topic of Stratification, mentioned as No. 5 in Paper 1 should be integrated and correlated with Section – B : (i), (ii), (iii) & (iv) of Paper 2. Similarly, the topic of Family, Marriage & Kinship, mentioned as No. 9 of Paper 1 should be integrated and correlated with Section B – (v) of Paper 2; or the topic of Politics and Society, mentioned as No. 7 of Paper 1 should be integrated and correlated with Section C – (iv) of Paper 2 (Refer the Syllabus). As you can see, these topics not only correlate with each other but the respective topics of Paper 2 are actually the practical applications of the topics of Paper 1.
The syllabus has been delineated by UPSC in such a beautiful way that they can be ranked and correlated for easier understanding of the Subject. Say for example, it is always better to approach the six thinkers of Paper 1, first, along with the three thinkers of Paper 2, and then one may approach the topics of Stratification, Politics in Society and others. Similarly, the topics, (a) Social Change (both Paper 1 & Paper 2), (b) Social Movements in India (Paper 2 Section A – ii & Paper 2 Section C – v) and (c) Challenges to Social Transformation should be approached in a synchronised way, respectively.
Here, I must admit that the article is becoming a bit technical and boring but then we have sit-down here to understand the technical aspect of approaching this subject only, and I strongly recommend to have a copy of the Syllabus with you (Click Here) for a better understanding of what we mean to say here.
Once we are done with the delineation of the topics, lets delve into the core area of the subject. The lifeline or core of Sociology Optional syllabus, are the six thinkers of Paper 1. However, I would also say the same about the Thinkers of Paper 2. Here, time and again I would caution you not to mug/cram but to understand the thinkers conceptually. Once you have a grip over the thinkers, rest of the subject matter becomes much easier. By the way, I would also be suggesting you to take the topics like Stratification, Family-Marriage-Kinship (formally ‘Systems of Kinship’), Politics & Society and Social Change-Transformation with due regards. All these topics have the potential from where multiple questions can be asked in the papers.
Here, I would like to burst a myth, that in Sociology one has to mug a lot on names and what they said about a respective topic. I cannot say for others, but the way I approach them, in the mode of story-telling, an aspirant won’t have the need to mug/cram their names.
In fact, I feel there is no need to mug/cram anything as such in respect to this subject. Rather what you need is, to understand the things with clarity and develop the ability to write/represent things in your own words. For this matter, I would suggest you to keep on asking questions (must be relevant and valid) to the teacher till you have any doubt. Simultaneously, one also needs to work on writing skill development. Most of the cases, what we see is, that a particular aspirant study a lot, puts in real hard-work but given this one lacuna, cannot express his/her opinion clearly and loose marks as a result.
Please try to understand here, that, what you are looking at is an examination of cut-throat competition. And this level of competition is truly enjoyable, if you/your guide knows how to prepare yourself.
As for writing answers in Sociology Optional, let me give you a few basic tips. Here, you do not have much scope for maneuvering. You have time limit, space limit and word limit (which is to be carefully adhered to), hence I would suggest to write to the point answers, answers which are substantiated, substantiated by real life examples wherever possible. Do not be bookish. Being bookish shows how well you mugged. Rather, write the conceptual part on your own (occasionally draw diagrams) and substantiate with real life examples to show how well you have understood the concepts and comprehended them. This is extremely significant in fetching marks. By the way, while drawing diagrams, please ensure that you elaborate them in few words or else you tend to loose marks if you just draw a diagram without elaborating them in words (a mistake number of aspirants do).
I would be telling you honestly, that, I cannot emphasise sufficiently on the need of understanding the concepts and writing them in your own words, while substantiating them with real-life examples.
Simultaneously, I would also suggest you to look into the previous years’ questions of Sociology Optional. At least I’ll be doing so. Once a topic is complete, I’ll be taking up the previous years’ questions on that topic immediately. Why so? To get oneself prepared with the trend of the questions and develop the ability of spontaneous writing. Here, to develop spontaneous writing, the skills which are extremely necessary, are the abilities to (1) understand the demand of the question, and (2) structure the answer accordingly. Hence, an aspirant needs to go through the previous years’ questions again and again.
For more details about Sociology Optional, I would genuinely suggest you to refer to the videos in the following page:
By the way, as for the advantage of Sociology Optional, let me highlight the significance it has in (i) essay paper, (ii) GS Main Paper 1, (iii) GS Mains Paper 2, and (iv) interview. Normally what we have seen, that a candidate gets at least one topic of essay, if not both, from the subject matter of Sociology Optional. Simultaneously, the section of Indian Society of GS Mains Paper 1 is extracted from the Sociology Optional Paper 2. Similarly, the section of Social Justice of GS Mains Paper 2 is also covered by Sociology Optional Paper 2. As for interview, our experiences tell us that, quite often than not in the interview, to understand the awareness level of an aspirant, the interview focusses on the recently happening social issues, there by giving those with Sociology Optional and added advantage.
At the same time, given the dynamic nature of the subject an aspirant gets the advantage of preparing current affairs both for Sociology Optional and General Studies together. Also, the skill one develops, in terms of answer writing helps in General Studies as well.
In the end, I wish you good luck and hope that you choose your Optional very carefully and get full advantage of the subject.
We are also sharing the some basic materials for Sociology Optional, with which one may start the preparation process for the subject along with Previous Years Question Papers.